On Thursday, 17 March 2022, the European Civic Forum (ECF) held its annual Civic Pride Awards event, this time fully online, to discuss with outstanding civic initiatives in Europe about the support they need from national authorities and European institutions in the current context of crisis. After two years of pandemic, in fact, European civil society is now facing the humanitarian emergency caused by the war in Ukraine, at the forefront as usual.
As pointed out by ECF Co-President Raffaella Bolini, the Civic Pride Awards ceremony celebrates the great civic energy opposing everywhere the growing threats to democracy and solidarity, but it’s also a tool to remind institutions the need to recognise the civil society role in a concrete way.
“The possibility to act in full independence for civil society must be supported by policies and by a permanent dialogue and cooperation”, said Ms Bolini in her introduction.
CSOs in crisis: dialogue with Věra Jourová
The first part of the event focused on the current humanitarian situation in Eastern Europe, where CSOs have been quickly responding to the emergency: in the invaded and bombed Ukraine, with a whole population in danger and in need for urgent assistance.; in Russia and Belarus, where people take to the streets to demonstrate their opposition to Vadimir Putin’s war; in Poland, Romania, Moldova and other border countries, where CSOs are devoting their energy to rescue and assist millions of refugees (sometimes, like in Poland, despite the lack of systemic solutions and support at the state authorities’ level).
All over the European Union as well, there’s been a large mobilisation against the war in Ukraine, calling for ceasefire, withdrawal of the Russian troops, diplomatic negotiations and political solutions, as well as huge activities to organise solidarity with refugees and war victims.
All these actions, together, show that elements to imagine a shared and common future exist, even in time of war. And civil society is proud of it.
In this context, the very fruitful debate between CSOs representatives and European Commission Vice-President in charge of Values and Transparency Věra Jourová took place in a positive and constructive atmosphere, with everyone eager to listen to others. CSOs representatives from Poland and Hungary pointed out several very urgent needs of civic actors in this time of crisis:
- To tackle the present crisis effectively, the EU needs to support civic actors on the field that assist all people coming from Ukraine needing immediate and longer-term support. This means ensuring direct and straightforward access to EU humanitarian and cohesion funding deployed to support Member States in the crisis, and also associating CSOs in the discussions on emerging needs and possible solutions.
- To support, empower and protect civil society’s capacities to act in the next crises and beyond, the European Commission needs to implement a permanent civil dialogue and adopt a European civil society strategy.
- The current humanitarian crisis in Ukraine should not overshadow the rule of law crisis in some EU Member States. For example, the Polish government is taking advantage of the war situation to continue the dismantling of the law of law and human rights protection. Similar concerns have been raised also by civil society in other EU Member States, such as Hungary and Slovenia. The European Commission needs to maintain and strengthen the commitments taken internally on the rule of law and not give them up under the pressure of responding to the humanitarian crisis.
Ms Jourová reiterated the European Commission’s support to civil society, pledging to listen to CSOs’ needs and take more actions:
“Several calls have been proposed to provide actual grants to CSOs (for grassroots organisations, in particular), as well as calls on funding for equality (including gender equality) and citizens engagement. With these funds, the European Commission wants to send a clear message: we need CSOs to play their role independently and efficiently. However, as much as money is key, it is not enough. CSOs need to be protected, since they are facing an increasing number of challenges”, said Ms Jourová during the debate, asking CSOs representatives to provide her some concrete proposals to feed in the Commission’s next steps.
The European Civic Forum followed up to Ms Jourová’s request and already sent her some proposals on the matters above mentioned, eager to build a stronger civic space for all and #LeaveNoOneBehind in Europe.
Last week during #CivicPride awards, we had the opportunity to exchange with @VeraJourova on how the worries & needs of CSOs in the current humanitarian crisis & how @EU_Commission should support CSOs organising #solidaritywithUkraine on the ground.
— European Civic Forum (@EUCivicForum) March 23, 2022
Civic Pride Awards: Stories of hope in dark times
After the discussion with Ms Jourová, the Award Ceremony to celebrate six outstanding civic initiatives from different EU countries took place: Civilizáció coalition from Hungary, Union des Sans-Papiers pour la régularisation from Belgium, Observatoires des pratiques policières from France, Deystvie & Denitsa Lyubenova from Bulgaria, National Federation of NGOs (OFOP) & Shipyard Foundation from Poland, and Action Aid Denmark, Amnesty International Denmark & Nyt Europa from Denmark. Their stories are all collected in Activizenship #: Stories of hope in dark times.
OHCHR Regional Representative for Europe Birgit Van Hout was invited to the celebration and gave a proud and moved keynote speech to open the ceremony:
“I commend the European Civic Forum for showcasing these brave and impactful initiatives, which exemplify once again the crucial role that civil society plays in safeguarding democracy and the human rights of all of us. The stories today also serve to remind us how these efforts are often frustrated by the lack of help, or in some cases the active obstruction by the very same State authorities who, in times of emergency, acknowledge and praise, and get praised for, their civil society efforts and resilience.”
Therefore, Ms Van Hout reiterated her Office’s effort to monitor, preserve and expand civic space globally (and at national level), by advocating for the protection civil society actors at risk.
Also Member of the European Parliament and “doctor of Lampedusa” Pietro Bartolo hosted the event, spending other words to praise the work of CSOs on the ground, even beyond times of crisis:
“It’s important to talk about CSOs’ space of action, since civic space has been gradually limited with the alibi of the Covid-19 pandemic, then, and the war in Ukraine, now. That’s why civil society needs to be congratulated about what it does to defend democratic values such as freedom of association, assembly and expression, too often jeopardised nowadays.”